Mark of Dysfunction: Keep this Deadly Secret

shhhOne mark of a dysfunctional marriage, family, or church is that others within the system are not supposed reveal the secret.

What is the secret?

You are not to tell anyone about the way things really are in this marriage, this family, or this church.  After all, what would people think?

Of course, I do appreciate husbands and wives who obviously love one another.  It is really nice to see husbands and wives who still have much affection for one another after many years.

I do remember seeing an interesting Facebook status one day.  It said something like this:

Twenty-five years ago I met the man of my dreams.  We have loved together, laughed together, and dreamed together.  I am so fortunate to be this man’s wife.  Looking forward to the next 25 years.

Now many people enter a status like this one on their anniversary or spouse’s birthday.  What struck me as odd about this particular post is that it never occurred to me (and I suspect many of their other friends) that she in any way adored or treasured this man.  In fact, it really didn’t appear that they valued each other very much at all.  The way they treated one another each day made such a post on their anniversary seem odd.

It was almost like she was trying to sell something to the rest of us.

I Have Heard So Many Secrets

Through the years, as a minister, I have sat with person after person and listened to sad, difficult stories.closingtime.jpg

I have heard so many secrets.

  • The alcoholic father who told me of his affair with his high school daughter’s friend.
  • The foster children who told me of a cruel woman who isolated them in a basement each evening, while the rest of the family ate dinner together. Later, they were brought the family’s leftovers.
  • The mother who grew up constantly hearing critical, demeaning words from her mother.
  • The man, who as a child, had lived with a brutal, bullying father. Yet at church, his father was perceived to be very godly.
  • The young woman who told me of the abortion she had while in college and how she had lived with this secret for several decades.

I am reading Joe Queenan’s memoir, Closing Time .

It is the story of a boy who grew up in a Philadelphia housing project. He and his three sisters are forced to make do. They live with their father and mother in an atmosphere that does not feel emotionally or physically safe. Their mother repeatedly said to her children that she wished she had never had children. Their mother seemed emotionally disconnected from the family. Meanwhile, their father was a violent man — especially when he drank:

My father got broke when he was young, and he never got fixed. He may have wanted to be a good father, a good husband, a good man, but he was not cut out for that job. He liked to drink, and unlike some men who like to drink, it was the only thing he liked to do. Among our relatives, he had a reputation as a happy-go-lucky fellow who, once he got a few beers in him, would turn into the life of the party. He was not the life of our party. Most of the time he was already dead drunk when he came home from work, spoiling for a fight with whoever crossed him first. (p. 7)

What memories.

His father, when he was drunk, beat his children, quite often. The rest of the family, instead of condemning such behavior, seemed more interested in providing excuses for such behavior. Queenan says that, “Manufacturing excuses for my father’s behavior was a family industry.” (p. 9)

Does this kind of excuse-making sound familiar to you?

Do you know what it is to have been hurt, abused, cheated, betrayed by family or friends and then have loved ones make excuses for such behaviors?

  • “Your daddy is under a lot of stress and he sometimes explodes when he is home.”
  • “Now I’m not saying I agree with what he did. But you haven’t been the best wife either.”
  • “You should not have upset your mother. If you kids would straighten up, she wouldn’t act that way.”
  • “Well, he probably didn’t really mean to say those things. He just looses his temper when you don’t do what he wants.”
  • “Your husband is a good man. I’m sure the situation is not as bad as you describe it.”

What complicates this even further is when a husband/wife or father/mother is perceived to be a Christian by those in their church, and yet family members live with this person’s ruthless, manipulative behavior during the week.

Perhaps none of this is a part of your experience. You may, however, have witnessed this kind of behavior in other families.

Meanwhile, many people spend years working through the impact of these secrets on their thinking, their emotions, and their faith.


How do such secrets impact an adult in later years? How does excuse-making complicate life?